Somalia To Hold Elections Within 60 Days

Somalia, officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, is a country in the Horn of Africa.

 

Somalia’s government announced on Thursday that delayed elections would be held within 60 days, following months of deadlock over the vote that erupted into violence in the troubled country.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and state leaders had been unable to agree on the terms of a vote before his term lapsed in February, triggering an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

The political impasse exploded into violence in April when negotiations collapsed and the lower house of parliament extended the president’s mandate by two years, sparking gun battles on the streets of Mogadishu.

Under pressure the president, better known as Farmajo, reversed the mandate extension and ordered his prime minister to reconvene with the leaders of Somalia’s five states to chart a fresh roadmap toward elections.

“About the schedule of elections, the national consultative forum agreed that elections will be held within 60 days,” said deputy information minister Abdirahman Yusuf at the conclusion of five days of negotiations in the capital.

The exact dates for parliamentary and presidential elections would be determined by the electoral board, he added.

“It is a historic day,” said Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, whose office will take charge of overseeing the electoral process.

Farmajo thanked the various parties for compromising, declaring the outcome “a victory for Somali people everywhere”.

Somalia’s foreign partners — including key backers who threatened sanctions if polls were not quickly held — also welcomed the breakthrough.

“We now urge all stakeholders to move forward swiftly to organize inclusive and transparent elections without delay,” read a statement issued by the UN signed by the US, Britain, EU and other western and regional powers.

Somalia’s elections follow a complex indirect model whereby special delegates chosen by the country’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

The United Nations has described a one-person, one-vote election as essential for Somalia’s democratisation but the milestone has eluded the fragile country for half a century.

Successive presidents have promised a direct vote but political infighting, logistical problems and a violent insurgency by the Al-Shabaab militant group has prevented such an exercise.

– Distrust –

Farmajo and the states agreed in September on a path to elections, again abandoning universal franchise for the indirect model, but increasing the number of delegates to make the process more inclusive.

But distrust over key appointments to crucial election committees, fears of rigging, and concerns about securing the vote itself, scuttled the plan.

Months of UN-backed negotiations failed to get the timetable back on track, with the crisis culminating in parliament approving the mandate extensions despite opposition from the Senate and the states.

The crisis stoked fears of outright civil war as soldiers deserted their posts in the countryside to fight for their political allegiances in the capital.

At least three people died in the clashes, with government losing control of key parts of Mogadishu as roads were sandbagged and fighters with machine guns watched key junctions.

The fighting drove tens of thousands of people from their homes, as the international community called for a ceasefire and urged the warring sides to again come to the table.

Opposition forces withdrew in early May after Roble assured the political opposition that their concerns would be heard.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fuelled by clan conflicts.

The Horn of Africa country still faces a violent insurgency from the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab group, which controlled the capital until 2011 when it was pushed out by African Union troops.

AFP

Kenya Suspends Flights To Somalia For Three Months

Kenya announced that flights between Nairobi and Mogadishu had been suspended.

 

 

Kenya announced Tuesday that flights between Nairobi and Mogadishu had been suspended, just days after Somalia said diplomatic ties with its neighbour had been normalised following months of tension.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) said commercial flights to and from Somalia would be paused for three months, without giving a reason.

“All flights between Kenya and Somalia are suspended expect medevac flights and United Nations flights on humanitarian missions only,” the regulator said..

KCAA director general Gilbert Kibe told AFP the suspension was “a decision by the government” but gave no further details.

The directive appeared catch some Somali aviation officials and travel agents by surprise.

“We had not been given a prior notice, and there’s been no explanation about the reason so far,” an airport tower operator in Mogadishu told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The suspension comes a day after Somalia said shipments of khat from Kenya remained on hold. Khat is a narcotic leaf popular in Somalia.

Somalia announced last week that bilateral ties with Kenya had been restored, citing “the interests of good neighbourliness” as motivating its decision.

Nairobi said it took note of the statement and was looking forward “to further normalisation of relations by the Somali authorities.”

Mogadishu cut off diplomatic relations in December after Nairobi hosted the political leadership of Somaliland, a breakaway state not recognised by Somalia’s central government.

Somalia has long bristled over what it calls Kenya’s meddling in regions over its border, while Nairobi has accused Mogadishu of using it as a scapegoat for its own political problems.

The pair have also engaged in a long-running territorial dispute over a stretch of the Indian Ocean claimed by both nations believed to hold valuable deposits of oil and gas, and have sought international arbitration over the matter.

Diplomatic Ties Restored With Kenya, Says Somalia

Somalia, officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, is a country in the Horn of Africa.

 

Somalia said Thursday it had restored diplomatic ties with Kenya, five months after bilateral relations were suspended between the often-tense neighbours over allegations of interference.

Somalia cut ties on December 15 after Kenya hosted the leadership of Somaliland, a breakaway state not recognised by the central government in Mogadishu.

“The Federal Government of Somalia announces that in keeping with the interests of good neighbourliness, it has resumed diplomatic relations with the Republic of Kenya,” the ministry of information said in a statement.

“The two governments agree to keep friendly relations between the two countries on the basis of principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in each other internation affair.”

The statement thanked the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, whom it credited with playing a part in the reconciliation, and said the thaw had been welcomed by Kenya.

Nairobi said it took note of the statement and was looking forward “to further normalisation of relations by the Somali authorities.”

“The ministry of foreign affairs acknowledges the continued support that has been extended from the international community, and in particular the government of Qatar, in efforts to normalise the diplomatic relations between Somalia and Kenya,” it said in a statement.

Somalia has long bristled over what it calls Kenya’s meddling in regions over its border, while Nairobi has accused Mogadishu of using it as a scapegoat for its own political problems.

The pair have also engaged in a long-running territorial dispute over a stretch of the Indian Ocean claimed by both nations believed to hold valuable deposits of oil and gas, and have sought international arbitration over the matter.

The row over which nation controls access to the lucrative deposits escalated in early 2019 after Somalia decided to auction off oil and gas blocks in a disputed maritime area, prompting Kenya to recall its ambassador from Mogadishu in February of that year.

Somalia’s President Mohamed Calls For Elections In Bid To Ease Tensions

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed
President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (AFP)

 

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called early Wednesday for elections and a return to dialogue after the extension of his mandate by two years sparked the country’s worst political violence in years.

The president, best known by his nickname Farmajo, addressed the nation at around 1:00 am local time (2200 GMT) after hours of anticipation, with Mogadishu on a knife’s edge as government troops and pro-opposition soldiers beefed up their positions and civilians fled their homes.

The rival sides exchanged gunfire on Sunday in an eruption of long-simmering tensions sparked by the delay of February elections and Farmajo’s extension of his mandate earlier this month.

The president said he would appear before parliament on Saturday to “gain their endorsement for the electoral process”, calling on political actors to hold “urgent discussions” on how to conduct the vote.

“As we have repeatedly stated, we have always been ready to implement timely and peaceful elections in the country,” he said.

Tensions have been rising in Somalia since Farmajo’s four-year term lapsed in February, as he and leaders of Puntland and Jubaland, two of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states, failed to agree on how to conduct elections.

A deal had been cobbled together in September, which later collapsed, and multiple rounds of UN-backed talks failed to broker a way forward.

The international community has repeatedly called for elections to go ahead, threatening sanctions.

“I hereby call upon all of the signatories of the 17 September agreement to come together immediately for urgent discussions on the unconditional implementation of the above-mentioned agreement,” said Farmajo.

That agreement paved the way for indirect elections whereby special delegates chosen by Somalia’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

However, the law extending Farmajo’s mandate planned for a long-promised one-person, one-vote election in 2023, the first such direct poll since 1969, the year dictator Siad Barre led a coup before ruling for two decades.

 On the ‘precipice’

The collapse of Barre’s military regime in 1991 led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fuelled by clan conflicts.

For more than a decade conflict has centred on Al-Shabaab, the Islamist insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda, who control swathes of countryside and regularly stage deadly attacks in the capital.

However the return of street combat in Mogadishu, and the army splintering along clan lines — the building blocks of Somali society — has put the country on a “precipice”, said analyst Omar Mahmood.

“When we’re talking about the breakdown of security forces along clan lines it really is reminiscent of the civil war that began in the late 80s and early 90s in Somalia,” he said.

Farmajo’s speech came after his Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble — and leaders of the two key states which have backed him, Galmudug and Hirshabelle — on Tuesday rejected the extension of his mandate and called for elections to be held.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a statement that the “immediate trigger” for Sunday’s violence was the influx of army units loyal to one of the opposition presidential candidates, who had abandoned their posts in south-central Hirshabelle — one of the frontlines against Al-Shabaab.

These troops, who have barricaded roads and deployed trucks mounted with machine guns, were now “in control of sections of the capital”, said the ICG.

The UN Mission in Somalia said it was “alarmed” by clan divisions within the Somali National Army and warned the political conflict distracted from the fight against Al-Shabaab.

‘Fear for our lives’

Since the fighting on Sunday, both sides have built up their presence in the capital, terrifying citizens weary of decades of civil conflict and an Islamist insurgency.

Mogadishu residents on Tuesday piled televisions and mattresses into rickshaws or loaded belongings onto donkeys, as they fled their homes.

“We fear for our lives… We have decided to get out of here before it is too late,” said Shamis Ahmed, a mother of five who abandoned her home.

-AFP

Somali President Signs Controversial Law Extending Mandate For Two years

 

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed
President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (AFP)

 

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has signed a controversial law extending his mandate for another two years, despite threats of sanctions from the international community.

State broadcaster Radio Mogadishu said the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, had “signed into law the special resolution guiding the elections of the country after it was unanimously passed by parliament”.

Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February — after months of deadlock over the holding of elections in the fragile nation.

However the speaker of the Senate slammed the move as unconstitutional, and the resolution was not put before the upper house, which would normally be required, before being signed into law.

Speaker Abdi Hashi Abdullahi said it would “lead the country into political instability, risks of insecurity and other unpredictable situations”.

Farmajo and the leaders of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous federal states had reached an agreement in September that paved the way for indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021.

But it fell apart as squabbles erupted over how to conduct the vote, and multiple rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse.

The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023 — the first such direct poll since 1969 — which Somalis have been promised for years and no government has managed to deliver.

A presidential election was due to have been held in February. It was to follow a complex indirect system used in the past in which special delegates chosen by Somalia’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

Sanctions and visa restrictions

The international community has repeatedly called for elections to go ahead.

The United States, which has been Somalia’s main ally in recovering from decades of civil war and fighting Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, said Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” in the move to extend Farmajo’s mandate.

“Such actions would be deeply divisive, undermine the federalism process and political reforms that have been at the heart of the country’s progress and partnership with the international community, and divert attention away from countering Al-Shabaab,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.

He said the implementation of the bill would compel the US to “re-evaluate our bilateral relations… and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability”.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also threatened “concrete measures” if there was not an immediate return to talks on the holding of elections.

A coalition of opposition presidential candidates said in a joint statement that the decision was “a threat to the stability, peace and unity” of the country.

In February some opposition leaders attempted to hold a protest march, which led to an exchange of gunfire in the capital.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fuelled by clan conflicts.

The country also still battles the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab Islamist militant group which controlled the capital until 2011 when it was pushed out by African Union troops.

Al-Shabaab retains parts of the countryside and carries out attacks against government, military and civilian targets in Mogadishu and regional towns.

Somalia still operates under an interim constitution and its institutions, such as the army, remain rudimentary, backed up with international support.

The 59-year-old Farmajo — whose nickname means cheese — was wildly popular when he came to power in 2017.

The veteran diplomat and former prime minister who lived off and on for years in the United States had vowed to rebuild a country that was once the world’s most notorious failed state, and fight corruption.

However, observers say he became mired in feuds with federal states in a bid for greater political control, hampering the fight against Al-Shabaab, which retains the ability to conduct deadly strikes both at home and in the region.

-AFP

Five Killed In Somalia Suicide Bombing As Army Claims Al-Shabaab Casualties

Somalia, officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, is a country in the Horn of Africa.

 

Somalia’s army said Saturday that soldiers had killed scores of Al-Shabaab gunmen who attacked two key military bases, while police said five civilians died in a suicide bombing in Mogadishu.

In a particularly bloody day for Somalia, where the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab launches regular attacks against government and civilian targets, both sides claimed they had inflicted heavy casualties on the other.

Death tolls could not be independently confirmed.

In the early hours of the morning, Al-Shabaab targeted the military bases in the towns of Awdheegle and Bariire — some 30 kilometres (17 miles) apart. Both are forward operating bases in the fight against the Islamist group.

“The army killed 76 fighters and captured 10 others alive during the fighting,”  Mohamed Tahlil Bihi, the commander of the infantry contingent in the region told journalists.

“The terror attacks were foiled and the dead bodies of those they had been misled into the fight are strewn around here,” he added.

He did not give any details of losses suffered by the army.

Witnesses in Awdheegle — home to the larger of the two bases — said Somali troops had repelled the militants after around an hour of heavy fighting.

“Shabaab gunmen used a vehicle loaded with explosives to launch the attack, but they failed to enter the camp after nearly an hour of exchanging machine gun fire with the Somali troops,” town resident Mohamed Ali said by phone.

“I saw several dead bodies of the Shabaab gunmen near the camp where the fighting occurred, the Somali soldiers paraded these bodies after the fighting.”

‘Heavy gunfire’

In Bariire, a car bomb was detonated before heavily armed gunmen stormed the base.

“We heard a heavy explosion caused by a suicide bomber ramming a car at the entrance to the base and a heavy exchange of gunfire followed,” said resident Abdirahim Malin.

“A few minutes later the militant fighters managed to enter the camp and torched some military supplies belonging to the Somali army.”

Al-Shabaab, which has been waging a long insurgency to unseat the internationally backed government in Mogadishu, claimed responsiblity for the attack in a statement on a pro-Shabaab website.

“We have killed 47 soldiers inside the camp and captured six military vehicles and huge amount of other military supplies during the Bariire military camp fighting,” the group’s spokesman Abdiasiz Abu-Musab was cited as saying.

Casualties are often difficult to establish from Al-Shabaab attacks in remote areas, especially when the military is targeted.

Al-Shabaab were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but still control swathes of territory from where they plan and launch frequent attacks.

Suicide bomber at tea shop

In Mogadishu, five civilians, including a child, were killed when a suicide bomber detonated himself at a tea shop, police said.

“Around 7 pm in the evening, a suicide bomber detonated himself at a tea shop frequented by the youth. Six people, four of them youths, a child, and the suicide bomber died in the blast. Four others were wounded,” police spokesman Sadiq Dudishe said in a statement.

A witness said the bomber walked into a crowd who were drinking tea in an open area near a police station.

“I was leaving a restaurant just a few hundred meters away from where the blast occurred, I was shocked by the blast and it was huge. I saw people rushing to the scene and wounded being carried,” said witness Ali Mohamed.

“Police cordoned off the area, but I saw several dead bodies carried away in an ambulance, they were young men, two of them from the neighbourhood where I live,” he added.

AFP

Somalia Receives 300,000 Doses Of COVID-19 Vaccine

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 12, 2021, shows empty vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at the UBO (Universite Bretagne Occidentale) in Brest, western France. The Netherlands suspends the use of AstraZeneca vaccine on March 14, 2021.
Fred TANNEAU / AFP

 

Somalia on Monday received its first shipment of 300,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, destined for frontline workers and those most at risk from Covid-19, the government said in a statement.

The conflict-torn nation has seen coronavirus cases soar 77 percent over the past month, to 9,190, while deaths have more than doubled to a total of 367.

“The arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines happens at a critical time as Somalia is now experiencing a new wave of the epidemic,” Health Minister Fawziya Abikar Nur said in a statement.

“It can only be contained if all countries stand together, Somalia included.”

The AstraZeneca jab, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, was provided under the Covax initiative which is working to facilitate vaccine access for poorer countries.

This particular vaccine only requires standard refrigeration, making it easier to transport and store.

Nur said that Somalia had “strong systems in place” to carry out the vaccination campaign.

“The vaccines have helped other countries reduce the spread of Covid-19 and we are confident they will do the same for Somalis,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Horn of Africa and East Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda have also begun vaccinating against Covid-19.

-AFP

Kenya Withdraws From ICJ Hearing Over Somalia Border Dispute

Kenya is a country in East Africa with coastline on the Indian Ocean.
Kenya is a country in East Africa with coastline on the Indian Ocean.

 

Kenya will not attend International Court of Justice hearings that begin this week over a long-running border dispute with Somalia, according to a letter seen Sunday by AFP.

The ICJ was asked by Somalia to rule in a case that could decide which of the two countries will have control over a large Indian Ocean zone that is rich in fish and which might contain substantial crude oil reserves.

But in a letter sent Thursday, Kenyan prosecutor general Kihara Kariuki told the Hague-based court his country “shall not be participating in the hearing in the case” that is scheduled for Monday.

Kariuki said the first reason was that “Covid-19 pandemic conditions have hampered Kenya’s ability to prepare adequately for the hearing.”

The UN tribunal rules in disputes between countries, and has been hearing a case brought by Somalia in 2014.

Somalia, which lies northeast of Kenya, wants to extend its maritime frontier with Kenya along the line of the land border, in a southeasterly direction.

Kenya wants the border to head out to sea in a straight line east, giving it more territory.

The disputed triangle of water stretches over an area of more than 100,000 square kilometres (40,000 square miles).

In its letter, Kenya also argued that holding the ICJ hearings virtually did not allow it to present its case in the most effective way.

“Kenya humbly requests the Court to afford its Agent a thirty minute opportunity to orally address the court before the commencement of the actual hearings,” the letter said.

Kenya recalled its ambassador to Somalia in February 2019 after accusing Somalia of selling oil and gas blocks at a London auction despite the pending delineation case before the ICJ.

Kenya also contested the ICJ’s authority to rule in the case.

Somalia has not responded for the moment to Kenya’s decision to boycott the hearing, and the ICJ did not immediately reply to an AFP request for comment on the case.

AFP

Kenya’s Locust Hunters On Tireless Quest To Halt Ancient Pest

It has been over a year since the worst desert locust infestation in decades hit the region, and while another wave of the insects is spreading through Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, the use of cutting edge technology and improved co-ordination is helping to crush the ravenous swarms and protect the livelihoods of thousands of farmers. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

 

As dawn breaks in central Kenya, a helicopter lifts off in a race to find roosting locusts before the sun warms their bodies and sends them on a ravenous flight through farmland.

Pilot Kieran Allen begins his painstaking survey from zebra-filled plains and lush maize farms, to dramatic forested valleys and the vast arid expanses further north, his eyes scouring the landscape for signs of the massed insects.

The chopper suddenly swings around after a call comes in from the locust war room on the ground: a community in the foothills of Mount Kenya has reported a swarm.

“I am seeing some pink in the trees,” his voice crackles over the headphones, pointing to a roughly 30-hectare (75-acre) swathe of desert locusts.

Reddish-pink in their immature — and hungriest — phase, the insects smother the tips of a pine forest.

Allen determines that nearby farms are at a safe distance and calls in a second aircraft which arrives in minutes to spray the swarm with pesticide.

On the ground, having warmed to just the right temperature, the thick cloud of locusts fills the air with a rustling akin to light rainfall. But a few hours from now, many will be dead from the effect of the poison.

Last month alone, Allen logged almost 25,000 kilometres (15,500 miles) of flight — more than half the circumference of the world — in his hunt for locusts after a fresh wave of insects invaded Kenya from Somalia and Ethiopia.

Like other pilots involved in the operation — who have switched from their usual business of firefighting, tourism, or rescuing hikers in distress — he has become an expert on locusts and the dangers they pose.

“Those wheat fields feed a lot of the country. It would be a disaster if they got in there,” he says pointing to a vast farm in a particularly fertile area of Mount Kenya.

Second wave

Desert locusts are a part of the grasshopper family which form massive swarms when breeding is spurred by good rains.

They are notoriously difficult to control, for they move up to 150 kilometres (90 miles) daily. Each locust eats its weight in vegetation daily and multiplies twenty-fold every three months.

The locusts first infested the east and Horn of Africa in mid-2019, eventually invading nine countries as the region experienced one of its wettest rainy seasons in decades.

Some countries like Kenya had not seen the pest in up to 70 years and the initial response was hampered by poor co-ordination, lack of pesticides and aircraft, according to Cyril Ferrand, a Nairobi-based expert with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

A slick new operation to combat a second wave of pests has improved control and co-operation in Kenya, Ethiopia, and parts of Somalia.

A picture taken on February 9, 2021, shows a local farmer walking in a swarm of desert locust in Meru, Kenya.  (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

Locust war room

In Kenya, the FAO has teamed up with the company 51 Degrees, which specialises in managing protected areas.

It has rejigged software developed for tracking poaching, injured wildlife and illegal logging and other conservation needs to instead trace and tackle locust swarms.

A hotline takes calls from village chiefs or some of the 3,000 trained scouts, and aircraft are dispatched.

Data on the size of the swarms and direction of travel are shared with the pilots as well as governments and organisations battling the invasion in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

“Our approach has completely been changed by good data, by timely data, and by accurate data,” said 51 Degrees director Batian Craig.

He said in Kenya the operation had focused on a “first line of defense” in remote and sometimes hostile border areas, which had successfully broken up massive swarms coming in from Ethiopia and Somalia before they reach farmland further south.

In a complex relay, when the wind shifts and the swarms head back into Ethiopia, pilots waiting on the other side of the border take over the operation.

Southern and central Somalia is a no-go zone due to the presence of Al-Shabaab Islamists and the teams can only wait for the swarms to cross over.

Ferrand told AFP that in 2020 the infestation affected the food supply and livelihoods of some 2.5 million people, and was expected to impact 3.5 million in 2021.

He said while a forecast of below average rainfall and the improved control operation could help curb the infestation, it was difficult to say when it will end.

But with dizzying climate fluctuations in the region, “we need to start looking ahead to what needs to be in place if we start to see more frequent infestations of desert locusts.”

While the size of swarms have decreased this year, each one is “affecting someone’s livelihood along the way,” said Craig.

In a Meru village, desperate farmer Jane Gatumwa’s 4.8-hectare farm of maize and beans is seething with ravenous locusts.

She and her family members run through the crops yelling and banging pieces of metal together in a futile bid to chase them away.

“They destroy everything, they have been here for like five days. I feel bad because these crops help us to get school fees and also provide food.”

“Now that there’s nothing left we will have a big problem.”

Al-Shabaab Attack Hotel In Mogadishu

 

 

Gunmen are attacking a hotel in central Mogadishu following a car bombing at the entrance, according to witnesses and Somali police, with the Al-Shabaab jihadist group claiming responsibility.

Somali soldiers surrounded the Hotel Afrik and blocked off access to it, an AFP journalist reported.

The hotel is near the road leading to Mogadishu’s airport, frequented by officials, members of the security forces, and community leaders.

“There is ongoing (an) attack on a hotel… A car bomb hit the front entrance and armed men stormed the building,” police officer Mohamed Adan told AFP.

“There is an exchange of gunfire and the security forces are trying to rescue people inside from the attackers,” he added.

Witnesses confirmed a massive explosion followed by smoke after a car struck the hotel entrance at great speed, followed by gunfire.

“The gunfire is still going on and there was another blast after the first big one,” said Osman Saadaq, a witness.

Another witness, Muhubo Said, said “casualties could be possibly high”.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief statement, saying: “The mujahidin stormed in an ongoing operation inside Hotel Afrik where members of the apostate team are stationed.”

The Al-Qaeda-linked group has been waging a violent insurgency across Somalia seeking to unseat the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.

AFP

Somalia Cuts Diplomatic Ties With Kenya

This file photo taken on May 18, 2016, shows a woman waving a flag as soldiers and other military personnel of Somalia’s breakaway territory of Somaliland march past during an Independence day celebration parade in the capital, Hargeisa. PHOTO: MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB / AFP

 

Somalia announced on Tuesday it is severing diplomatic ties with Kenya, accusing Nairobi of “recurring” interference in its political affairs as Mogadishu prepares for long-awaited elections.

Tensions had been rising between the neighbours and the announcement came as Kenya hosted the leadership of Somaliland, a breakaway state not recognised by the central government in Mogadishu which considers the territory part of Somalia.

Information Minister Osman Abukar Dubbe told reporters that Kenyan diplomats in Mogadishu had been given seven days to leave and that Somalia’s envoys were being recalled from Nairobi.

READ ALSO: Record Number Of Journalists Jailed In 2020, Says Watchdog

“The Somali government considers the people of Kenya a peace-loving community who want to live in harmony with other societies in the region. But the current leadership of Kenya is working to drive the two sides apart,” he said in Mogadishu.

“The government took this decision to respond to recurring outright political violations and interference by Kenya against the sovereignty of our country.”

AFP

Trump Orders US Troops Removal From Somalia

In this file photo taken on November 28, 2008, US Army soliders from 1-506 Infantry Division set out on a patrol in Paktika province, situated along the Afghan-Pakistan border. DAVID FURST / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 28, 2008, US Army soldiers from 1-506 Infantry Division set out on a patrol in Paktika province, situated along the Afghan-Pakistan border. DAVID FURST / AFP

 

President Donald Trump has ordered the removal of most US military and security personnel from Somalia, where they have been conducting operations against the Al-Shabaab militant group, the Pentagon said Friday.

After ordering major troop reductions in Iraq and Afghanistan recently, Trump’s new move reflects his drive to disengage US forces from what he calls endless wars abroad, making good on a campaign pledge in the final weeks of his presidency.

Trump “has ordered the Department of Defense and the United States Africa Command to reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The Defense Department stressed the United States was “not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa,” amid concerns of a pullback from various areas in the continent.

“We will continue to degrade violent extremist organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition,” it said.

READ ALSO: US Lawmakers Back Decriminalisation Of Cannabis

The US Africa Command has maintained some 700 troops, personnel from other US security operations, and private security contractors in Somalia, both conducting attacks on Al-Shabaab and training Somali forces.

US troops have conducted operations against extremist groups in Somalia since the early 2000s, killing hundreds in mostly conventional aircraft and drone strikes that have caused significant civilian deaths.

US personnel meanwhile have sustained some casualties, including the death of a CIA officer in late November.

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller visited Somalia a week ago, where he “reaffirmed US resolve in seeing the degradation of violent extremist organizations that threaten US interests, partners, and allies in the region,” the Pentagon said.

On Wednesday Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley confirmed that the Defense Department was reviewing the size of its posture in the country.

“We recognize that Al Shabaab in the Lower River Jubba Valley is a threat. We know that it’s an organized, capable terrorist organization. It’s an extension of Al-Qaeda, just like ISIS was,” he said.

He called the US presence relatively small, “relatively low cost in terms of numbers of personnel and in terms of money.”

“But it’s also high risk,” he said. Yet, if US forces do not keep up pressure on Al-Shabaab, he said, they could threaten to attack US interests outside the Horn of Africa region.

“Most people probably don’t know what that small force has been doing, but they’ve helped prevent Shabaab — a prolific branch of Al-Qaeda — from forming an Islamic Emirate & disrupted terrorist operations,” said Thomas Joscelyn, an expert on Islamic extremist groups at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think-tank.

Shabaab’s main goal, he said on Twitter, “is to create an Islamic emirate in Somalia and export jihad throughout the region.”

“The group has also experimented with sophisticated explosives to attack airplanes & international plotting can’t be ruled out.”

Withdrawals in Afghanistan, Iraq

The move came as Trump has sought to wind down US military engagements abroad to honor a pledge he made in the 2016 election.

He ordered US troop levels to be slashed by mid-January in Afghanistan and Iraq, to 2,500 troops in both cases.

The Pentagon said Friday that some of the personnel being pulled out of Somalia will be reassigned to neighboring countries, particularly Kenya and Djibouti, to allow cross-border operations against extremist groups in conjunction with partner forces.

“The US will retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland,” it said.

 

AFP